Getting Off ‘Famously’

Three days before the exam, and my revision has hit a predictable level of intensity.  I’m now pretty much living inside the exam texts, to the point where I have the books and laptop with me in bed at night, and I just keep working until I literally fall asleep mid-sentence. Come the morning, I wake up, still surrounded by the laptop and the books, so it’s straight back into the revision. It’s an immersion of work. But I actually like this approach, and particularly enjoy the luxury of being able to work in bed. ‘It’s not laziness, it’s being like Proust!’

I’m not writing this in bed, by the way. I’m at my desk, fully dressed & showered & shaven (a detail one feels compelled to add in these days of working-from-home beardiness), plus shirt & tie and suit, because I had to leave the building to buy groceries.

Current grocery of delight: Twinings’ herbal tea selection box: ‘Mixed Berries’. Five different flavours, five tea bags each. My recent stomach pains turned out to be due to a food allergy or intolerance or general unhealthiness. So I’ve been trying to wean myself off dairy and caffeine and gluten and excess calories as much as possible, and these herbal teas  actually provide a level of sweetness and pleasure that makes the abstention worthwhile.


Current petty language bugbear: the usage of  the qualifying adverb ‘famously’.

As in, say: ‘Proust famously wrote in bed.’

The implication is that the writer assumes the reader knows this particular fact. If the reader doesn’t know that Proust wrote in bed, the use of ‘famously’ is at best, debatable, and worse, redundant.

And if the reader does  know this fact, the statement feels cheap and shallow, even desperate. The writer is saying ‘Not only do I know this fact, but it’s important to add that I know that it’s well-known.’

Why is it important? And how do you define ‘well-known’ anyway? Who is this General Knowledge, and what time is the mutiny?

(And I think of the time when I was in a room with Pete Doherty and Peter Blake, and I overheard a young man from Mr Doherty’s party asking Peter Blake who he was, and I thought of my parents, who may not know who Pete Doherty is, but who definitely know who Peter Blake is, and I think about how this matters, and to whom it matters)

(And I think about the people who sign into comments boxes on the Internet, purely to add ‘who cares?’ And I think about the solipsism of the Internet, and how that’s affected discourse)

(And I think of the common Twitter phrase ‘Is it me, or…’ And what that means)

In fact, I think it all comes down to wanting to connect, and the fear of feeling alone. Well, cheer up! Someone is reading your sentence, in a world of texual saturation! You have already made a connection! So you can drop the ‘famously’ – it makes you look needy.

Fame connects. But it doesn’t connect uniformly. So ‘famously’ in this sense tries to assume what cannot be assumed. At worse, ‘famously’ panders.

Where ‘famously’ can be used is in the other sense, as in ‘excellently’. As in ‘getting on famously’.

But I’m worried that the other usage is becoming more, well, famous.